On Wednesday, Utah lawmakers passed a bill that would raise the age limit of motorcyclists required to wear helmets on state highways. It brought up passionate debate from both supporters and opponents.
SB 159 would increase the age that motorcyclists are required to wear helmets from 18 to 21 on highways in the state. The bill’s co-sponsor is Republican Representative Jim Dunnigan.
He recalled his own motorcycle experience at 19 when a car pulled in front of him and the ensuing collision.
"That dent would have been in my head if I didn’t have a helmet. And I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that when you’re 18, 19 and 20, the decisions that we made then and that our young adults make now only impact them. That is not correct," Dunnigan said.
Debate on the House floor quickly turned from whether helmets save lives, to if 18-20-year-olds should be considered adults capable of making their own safety decisions and at what point the state should make laws impacting individual freedoms.
Republican Representative Tim Quinn voted against the bill.
"I think what we’re discussing here is should we as a government force someone to want to save their life. And if we’re gonna go down that path, where do we stop as a government?" Quinn said.
Republican Representative Raymond Ward defended the bill, citing that the prefrontal cortex of the human brain, which is involved in decision making and impulsive behavior, continues to develop for several years after someone is legally considered an adult.
"If you were having to pick from a scientific perspective, is 18 the better number or is 21 the better number, 21 is clearly the better number," Ward said.
Ultimately, SB 159 passed the House on a vote of 43 to 30. It now goes to the Governor for his signature.